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Understanding Treatment for Cirrhosis

How Do I Know If I Have Cirrhosis?

Describing your symptoms and medical history, along with the results of a physical exam, are usually enough to diagnose a case of cirrhosis.

Once the diagnosis has been made, your doctor may order one or more liver function tests, which will use blood samples to identify specific liver diseases and assess the organ's overall health.

Understanding Cirrhosis

Find out more about cirrhosis:

Basics

Symptoms

Treatment

Prevention

It may be helpful to perform a CT scan or ultrasound to further evaluate the extent of liver disease. The doctor may also require a liver biopsy, or tissue sample, and blood tests to ascertain the cause extent of the cirrhosis. In a liver biopsy, a needle is inserted into the liver to draw out a fragment of tissue, which is then sent to a lab for analysis.

What Are the Treatments for Cirrhosis?

The best way to treat cirrhosis is to correct the underlying cause. This could involve giving up alcohol, seeking treatment for viral hepatitis or an inherited disorder, or eliminating certain substances from your diet or environment. Some conditions cannot be cured, but medications can put them into remission.

Besides halting the progress of the disease, conventional treatment also aims to correct any complications, such as internal bleeding, which in themselves can be disabling or life-threatening.

If your cirrhosis is caused by alcoholism, you simply must stop drinking -- immediately and completely. If you continue to drink after you have been diagnosed with cirrhosis, you have less than a 40% chance of living more than five years. If you stop drinking, however, those chances increase to 60%-70%.

Giving up alcohol is also the best way to remedy alcoholic hepatitis and alcohol-induced fatty liver. Both of these conditions usually clear up when the patient stops drinking long enough for the liver to heal. Conventional treatment of cirrhosis caused by chronic viral hepatitis emphasizes rest, proper nutrition, and possibly the use of the drug interferon. Interferon is often combined with an antiviral drug called ribavirin, which can improve chances for a cure. Some types of hepatitis, however, cannot be cured.

For Wilson's disease, doctors generally prescribe medications that rid the body of accumulated copper. It may be necessary to continue these drugs for life. In the case of hemochromatosis, the best way to dispose of excess iron is to draw blood from the patient once or twice a week. This may be kept up for as long as two years, or until the iron level reaches its normal range. Treatment then continues every two to four months.

Severe cirrhosis may require a liver transplant, a serious procedure usually regarded as a last resort. Transplants are not appropriate for everyone: Some patients are too old, too young, or too sick for the procedure. And people whose cirrhosis is due to alcohol abuse must demonstrate a prolonged period of abstinence before the operation. Doctors generally are hesitant to transplant a liver if the patient is just going to abuse it.

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